You spent two hours preparing your lesson on the present perfect verb tense. You have visual aids, handouts, and a reinforcing class activity ready to go. In class, you spend the next forty minutes of a fifty-minute class discussing the proper use of the present perfect tense and giving examples.
Your students listen attentively. There are a few nodding off, but for the most part they are listening. Some are even taking notes. You spend the last ten minutes of class engaged in individual seatwork activity with the class members.
After class, you go to the teacher’s lounge, have a seat, and reflect on how tiring that was. You grab a quick cup of coffee and prepare yourself for the next class. At the end of the day, you feel pretty tired. And why not, you worked a full day as an ESL teacher.
But what might the students say about it?
Avoid Talking Too Much
Sometimes, as teachers, we tend to over-talk a subject. I suppose it is in our DNA as teachers to want to explain things. But, have you ever listened to a lecture in college or university; maybe on YouTube on a subject that is not overly exciting? Man, those talks can drag on.
It is helpful if we consider what our students may be feeling. Remember the 70/30 rule? That would certainly apply in this situation. Yes, there are times when we must follow a given lesson plan or curriculum. But most leadership in companies, schools, or academies understand that when the teacher steps into class, they have the freedom to adjust the lesson to meet the needs of the class.
I Know More About English
When most of the class time is spent on teacher talk time, there is a tendency for the students to learn about a subject. The more they learn about English, the less they know how to use it. I am sure every experienced teacher reading this can remember encounters with students who were head-smart about English grammar but could not use it. Or perhaps you can recall a student who did well on written tests but could not express themselves beyond the basics. This is the error in filling minds with information without giving ample opportunities to use the language. They may know more, but what do they do with it?
English is a Tough Subject
In the case of English language instruction, are we teaching English as a subject, or are we teaching it as a language? You may recall your English subject classes in elementary or high school. The teacher spoke, you learned what you needed to learn, took the test, passed and moved on.
English was nothing more than a tough subject where you had to learn about direct and indirect objects, transitive and intransitive verbs, subject complements, split infinitives, prepositions, and the like. Wow! We had to master a lot in school. I do not know about you, but my English class was a tough ‘subject!’
If you teach your ESL classes in the same fashion, that is all your class will be for them—an English subject class, that must be passed. Your students may even make the mistake of thinking that if they pass your class, their English will somehow improve. Sadly, their knowledge may improve, but their ability to use the language has not.
English language is not a rigid subject of rules. It is a method of communicating with others. The goal of the course is to be able to express yourself clearly, but that can be done via a myriad of ways. Words can be mixed and matched, rules can be bent, and idioms used strategically to express ourselves in English.
I Wish I Could Use English More
We would also do well in remembering that not everyone enjoys aural or visual stimuli. If you have learned a little about types of learning you know that not everyone learns the same. Some class members also appreciate being able to use the new language. The exciting times in many of my classes were when the learners, young and old, had opportunities to use it.
With all the lesson plans and activities that proliferate the internet, an ESL teacher has little reason not to be equipped to provide opportunities to use the language. If you are a TESOL certified teacher, you even have less excuse, since you are taught strategies in those courses. There is some good stuff out there that creative ESL teachers can use to make a single language point per class and permit the students to practice.
Give Students An Opportunity to Practice the Language
If students realize that the teacher will speak at length again about a subject, they will not likely be very motivated to attend. When they know they will not be allowed to practice the language, they will probably not be too excited about your class.
If they feel English is more of a subject than a language, they may not be too eager to learn more. Students may fall asleep in your class and they may drop your class. They may stop attending. They may even complain to your superiors. Whatever course of action they may take, it will likely reflect negatively on you.
What Can You Do?
So, how do you get learners excited about attending your class? Simply put, you can reverse the trend. You can keep instruction short and sweet; brief and to the point. Teach a single language point at a time. We can teach them less ‘about’ English while giving them more opportunities to practice ‘using’ the English language.
We can show them that there are multiple shades of grey in English communication; i.e., no fixed way of expressing ourselves. We can show them that it is okay not to have perfect English—because indeed, what is perfect English? We can show them that tomorrow will be another opportunity to use the language they need to be able to master. The power is in your hands as an ESL teacher.